Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck
We don’t participate in the lottery system here in Alabama so you probably don't know that the mega jackpot lottery is up to $126 million dollars. While that’s a lot of money, in March of 2012 the lotto promised a payout of $656 million dollars. We were living in Texas at the time, and I had several friends and members of our congregation who bought lotto tickets. Everyone of them told me that if God would allow them to win, then they would give a percentage to the church. We even had some folks just buy the church some lottery tickets so God could bless the church.
Have ever dreamed of getting rich? You know the dream; Uncle Leo, who you never knew, dies and gives his whole estate to you. I'm talking about a Caribbean island, a yacht, a jet, the whole deal. Now it's yours. Or maybe you are sitting in the house looking at all of the credit card bills that are coming in now that Christmas is over and the doorbell rings. You open the door and to your surprise there is Publishers Clearing house with with a big check, lights, and cameras. You know the dream.
Statisticians tell us that you are more likely to fallout of bed tonight, hit your head on the ground, and die than you are to win the big money lottery. Just a little encouragement for you as we go into this new year.
Sometimes we take the lottery approach to our finances. We put ourselves in a bind, and when we find ourselves backed in the corner we decide it’s time to pray, God would you mind bailing us out? That’s a Las Vegas approach to our finances. You put the coin in the slot machine and right before you pull the handle you say, "Jesus, please, I'll give part of my money to the church. I'll give half to the church." Some of us have this Vegas mentality to God when it comes to our money. The good news is that God really does care about our finances and our resources. Jesus taught more about money than He did about heaven, about prayer, about the church. Money is important.
The truth is that God desires for us to learn how to manage our resources with wisdom and be wise stewards of our money, our assets, our lives, our health, and everything in life. He wants us to manage it wisely, While God talks about it a lot, we get all bent out of shape or at least uncomfortable when we talk about it. So we have this huge elephant in the room, that everyone sees, and no one talks about.
Since we are talking about money, I understand that some of you are already starting to get uncomfortable I just want you to relax a little bit. I am not doing this series to try and get your money. Rather I wanted to do this series so that your money doesn't get you. That's a very different thing.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that seventy percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. USA Today reported that fifty-five percent of Americans worry about money. If you are here today and you are living paycheck to paycheck or you worry sometimes or all of the time about money, the good news is you are normal.
Normal is a good place to start. But, what if you could be abnormal? I want us to go to the Bible and look at some insight into the financial aspects of our lives. If I were to pick one character, outside of Jesus, who could give us some wise insight I would turn to a character in the Old Testament named Joseph. Joseph was a guy who had incredible administration ability and was very wise with assets, money, and resources. But he had a rough go at life.
After being his dad’s favorite, his brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous of him. He finds himself as a slave in Potiphar's household where he rises up to the top of Potiphar's household. He oversees and administrates the whole house including all of Potiphar's resources and money. Then he's falsely accused and thrown into prison. While in prison he rises up to the top again and is overseeing and administrating the prison. The book of Genesis tells us that eventually he rises up as the number two guy, over all of Egypt, the most powerful nation in the world at that time. He oversees all the money and finances of Pharaoh. That's a guy with some administrative ability and gifts.
But in order to get out of the prison and into Pharaoh’s court, Pharaoh is going to have a few dreams. That’s how we end up in Genesis 41. Let me set the stage while you are turning to Genesis 41 this morning. Pharaoh has two really weird dreams. The first dream is that there are seven big fat cows that come up out of the Nile River. Then there are seven really skinny cows that come up out of the Nile. The seven skinny cows eat the seven fat cows.
The second dream is just as weird, he dreams he has seven full heads of grain that are growing. Then there are seven withered heads of grain. The withered heads of grain eat the seven full heads of grain. Of course he's disturbed by these dreams so he calls all the dream interpreters together and asks them to start interpreting this dream. No one can interpret it, but an ex-con remembered Joseph and Joseph is called to come before Pharaoh and interpret these weird dreams.
Joseph interprets these dreams, starting in verse 25: “Pharaoh has actually had one dream. God has announced to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven healthy cows are seven years, and the seven healthy ears of grain are seven years. It’s actually one dream. The seven thin and frail cows, climbing up after them, are seven years. The seven thin ears of grain, scorched by the east wind, are seven years of famine. It’s just as I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are now coming throughout the entire land of Egypt. After them, seven years of famine will appear, and all of the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. The famine will devastate the land."
In an act of grace, God tells Pharaoh about what is going to happen, and allows Joseph to interpret the dreams. There are going to be seven good years and seven bad years. Remember that Joseph was just yanked out of prison and is now in front of the most powerful man in the world. Pharaoh could have done whatever he wanted. He could have had Joseph killed because he delivered bad news. But Joseph laid it out and Pharaoh had to face a decision. Was he willing to pay attention to what God revealed to him in that moment? It's the same decision that you and I face today. Are we willing to pay attention to God when it comes to our lives, our assets, our finances, and the stuff that we have?
That’s the first lesson Joseph teaches us about breaking the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck, pay attention to God.
Joseph said twice, God is telling you what He's about to do. God revealed what the next 14 years were going to look like and Pharaoh had to make a decision. Was he willing to listen to God and do the things that needed to happen to prepare for that or not?
God has great plans for us, but you need to understand that His plans don't usually involve this kind of watershed lottery moment. What they involve is us learning how to manage the resources He's already given us. It’s the approach that we all try to have with our own kids. We know that it is not good to for a child to have everything given to them all at once. We know it’s better for that child to learn how to manage the little bit that they have so they can mature and learn how to handle more. I believe that's what God wants for all of us if we'll let Him move in our lives. Pay attention to God.
I promise if you are willing to pay attention to the biblical principles found in scripture and put them into practice in your life, your financial picture will improve dramatically. I'm not saying that God is going to drop money down from the sky on you. But, when you learn to manage your money with wisdom, over the course of the long term it will lead to greater peace in your relationships. Counselors tell us that there are more fights between couples and family members over money than any other other topic. Money is the number one item we fight about. It’s interesting that financial professionals tell us that the person who makes a million dollars a year worries about money just as much as the person who makes twenty thousand dollars a year.
The biggest obstacle in our faith life is ……. us. God wants us to understand His principles when it comes stuff. Stuff is not bad or evil, but we allow our attitude about stuff to get in the way of God's will for our lives. We need to pay attention to God and to what He is trying to tell us if we want to make sure that we don’t become slaves to our stuff.
The second lesson Joseph teaches us about breaking out of the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck is how to manage our pay.
After Joseph reveals the meaning of the dream to Pharaoh, he gives him some advice. Look back in the text starting in verse 33, “Now Pharaoh should find an intelligent, wise man and give him authority over the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint administrators over the land and take one-fifth of all the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. During the good years that are coming, they should collect all such food and store the grain under Pharaoh’s control, protecting the food in the cities. This food will be reserved for the seven years of famine to follow in the land of Egypt so that the land won’t be ravaged by the famine.”
Joseph’s counsel is that they place a wise man in charge of all the abundance. Have him set up other wise people who are in charge and then take a fifth of the grain and store those assets away each year during the seven years of plenty so when you hit the seven years of famine you are prepared and ready.
I want to take a moment here and just remind you that God could have stopped the famine all together. God was not surprised by the famine, God did not see it coming and was left helpless to do anything about it. God had the power to bless Egypt for 14 years and longer, but instead He made the choice to empower Pharaoh to use what he was given wisely.
There will be times in our lives when there is feast, and bank on it, there will be times when there is famine. There will be times when we have plenty. America has been in a run lately, where we have plenty. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression. They would tell me stories of how their parents would raise and sell chickens to make ends meet, but all they could eat were the chicken feet. They always had this historical perspective when it comes to money. My grandmother would tell me, There will be feast and there will be famine. And while I am not trying to scare you into building a bunker and converting all your money into gold, you need to know that everything is circular and there will come a time when we have to famine. Not only corporately but also individually, it happens. We have to be ready for it.
Let me share with you what I think is the most interesting part of this whole text, Joseph gives this biblical, God given guidance to Pharaoh that doesn't involve making more money. Did you catch that? The financial plan that came from God to Pharaoh has nothing to do with making more money. The advice that God gives to Pharaoh is to manage your pay and your resources.
There is this prevailing idea in our culture that if we just had more money then everything in our life would be good. Everything would be fine. We'd be fulfilled and we'd be happy. Dave Ramsey did some research. They interviewed different people who made different amounts of money. They asked, "What would it take to release the financial pressure in your life?" Most people had the same answer: Twenty percent more money. It didn’t matter if they made twenty thousand a year or two hundred thousand a year? Their answer was the same, just a little more. At some point we have to say, it's not a money issue, it's a management issue. How are we going to manage what we have?
When you pay attention to God you learn how to managing your pay, the things that God has provided for you. Managing you pay comes with an understanding that money, resources, assets, time, talents, it's all God's. We are given the responsibility to be a steward of His stuff. We're stewards of what He has provided for us.
The third lesson Joseph teaches us about breaking out of the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck is pay yourself.
Here are the mandatory statistics you have to share when you are talking about money. The United States has the lowest personal savings rate of any First World Country. With all of our wealth, half of American households have a savings of less than twelve-hundred dollars. Right now seventy-eight million Americans are sixty-five or older. One in three have no retirement savings. That’s why if we want to get out of the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck we need to learn how to pay ourselves every time we are paid.
Joseph explained how to do this starting in verse 35, During the good years that are coming, they should collect all such food and store the grain under Pharaoh’s control, protecting the food in the cities. This food will be reserved for the seven years of famine to follow in the land of Egypt so that the land won’t be ravaged by the famine.
The plan was simple: Save up in the good years and then live off your savings in the lean years. And then God gave them the plan for how to do that: First Keep track of what you are spending.
One of the things Joseph did early on was say that all of the grain had to be accounted for. Figure out the assets and grain and keep track of it. Have you ever sat down and tried to track of your money?
Here’s a great little experiment for you to do. Over the next thirty days keep a notebook, or use one of the sheets we have provided at the back of the auditorium to write down every single expenditure that you make. Do something so you can track it. I mean everything. The dollar forty nine for coffee at McDonalds, the 65 cents in the vending machine, every single penny that you spend over a month, keep track. Then at the end of that month you will be surprised at how much money you randomly spent. Then multiply that number by twelve and you will see where a hunk of your money goes.
If you are like me, there is fuzzy math that goes on with the credit card bill. I buy some stuff on Amazon, or iTunes and when the credit card bill comes at the end of the month Trista asks me what I bought for $34.95 from Amazon and I have no idea. It’s like I don’t know what happened. I look at the expenditures and I’m like, Yes I bought those things but how did it get to this number? It’s fuzzy math! Keep track. That's where it has to start. Keep track of what you're spending.
The second part of the Joseph Plan is to Keep it simple. Get a spending plan that's simple. Open a savings account. Take some basic steps. Don't get overwhelmed with the big picture. I have all this debt and I don't know what I'm going to do. Start taking little steps in your life. Trista and I have a very simple plan called the 10/10/80 plan. When figure out how much money we make and we strive to give 10 percent to God, 10 percent to savings, and live on 80 percent.
Step Three Keep it up. Joseph's plan was a fourteen year plan. Sometimes it can be so overwhelming. You look around and think this is hopeless. You are never going to get ahead. But there is hope, you just have to keep it up. Little by little, step by step. You may only be able to save $200 dollars this year, but do that for 5 years and you have $1,000 in savings. Save your pennies and allow God to work in that. Be wise stewards of what you have.
The Final step is to pay it forward. What good is a savings plan if all we want to do is have cash in the bank. Some of it needs to go to retirement. Some of it needs to go to different things. But it's also so we have the margin to be generous to people who are in need. To loved ones, family members, to anyone who may need it. I think most of us would love to be generous but we are so overwhelmed with debt that we can't find the money to do it.
Here is how our text for this morning ends: The famine covered every part of the land, and Joseph opened all of the granaries and sold grain to the Egyptians. In the land of Egypt, the famine became more and more severe. Every country came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because in every country the famine had also become more severe. (56-57) God used Joseph to reach out to an entire nation of people and Egypt had food for the world. They all came to Egypt and they provided for them. We may never be called on to save a nation but we may be called on to help someone.
Today we have the chance to pay it forward, but first we have to acknowledge what God payed for us.